Me: Thank you so much for joining me again. How the tables have turned. How does it feel to be in retreat?
CoV: I beg your pardon?
Me: Now that we have a 95% effective vaccine everything is going back to normal.
CoV: Have you glanced at the global numbers?
Me: Look, I’m trying to be upbeat. For like for the first time in a year. So maybe we can just focus on America today, not talk about India?
CoV: Right, the big takeaway from the pandemic: what happens outside America stays outside America.
Me: On another note, did you read the WHO-China study on your origins. I really really really want to know where you came from.
CoV: What fun would that be?
Me: Look, if we never know where you came from, how are we supposed to prevent something like this from happening again?
CoV: I’ll give you a hint: you’ll never know.
Me: What?? Seriously.
Me: Why not?
CoV: Because Xi does not want you to.
Me: Don’t you think our intelligence services will eventually figure out it? I mean that’s a pretty big secret to keep under wraps eternally.
CoV: What if the Chinese do not know themselves?
Me: Eventually they’ll find out.
CoV: If they don’t want to?
Me: Isn’t it in their interests to prove to the world that you weren’t some accident in a Chinese lab?
CoV: Why? Because the people inclined to believe a lab origin theory are going to be convinced otherwise by scientific data? Messy, probabilistic, never-fully-conclusive real-world scientific data? See how that goes over.
Me: You’re right. No one will ever find a smoking pangolin. It will always be probabilistic. But it might convince the non-conspiracy theory junkies. The ones who are just are trying to keep an open mind.
CoV: Look, right now China can push multiple plausible scenarios. Maybe I came from Vietnam…or the US. New data confirming that China birthed me would only interfere with the government’s theme song. Modern China is destined to become the supreme leader of the world.
Me: I’d believe it after the Beijing Olympics. Did you see those drummers?
CoV: I wasn’t born yet.
Me: But isn’t it in China’s vital interests to figure out what happened so they can prevent future pandemics from emerging in-house, killing their citizens, disrupting the economy?
CoV: China crushed COVID like an ant while Western leaders are still flailing like bass on a beach. You don’t think Xi is enjoying this?
Me: I’ll admit, the pandemic is making a case for capable central leadership.
CoV: Xi is winning. So are other dictators with sense. Liberalism is on the ropes. Xi can’t wait to play this game again.
Me: Which points to a deliberate release?
CoV: There’s a difference between throwing a punch and standing by while someone else throws a punch. After all, Mother Nature is the greatest pathogen maker of all.
Me: Can’t argue with that.
CoV: But exposing the West’s deep vulnerabilities sure does make an intentional pathogen release seem more tempting in the future.
Me: But China did just remove all those wildlife farms in the south. Isn’t that a sign of trying prevent future pandemics?
CoV: Or destroy evidence.
Me: You know, this is so frustrating. My career is dedicated to sleuthing the origins of pandemic viruses using genomic data. It was so satisfying to figure out that the 2009 flu pandemic came from pigs in Mexico.
CoV: Possible only because Mexico did not burn all the little piggies in the interim.
Me: I just can’t believe that all these millions of people will die and life as we know it change forever and we’ll never know why. This isn’t like the dinosaurs disappearing 65 million years ago. This happened right under our noses.
CoV: Delicious. All you little humans tracking everything with cell towers and satellites, flying to the moon, editing genomes, and knowing virtually nothing about your own existence.
Me: Is there no hope for us?
CoV: Possibly. I tried not to screw up the children.